December 2, 2020

Embracing Change


I was 17 years old when I was hired as Middle School Director of a local Presbyterian Church in my hometown.  A year later at  18, I was the Youth Director while the Pastor/Head of Staff had moved on to a different church.  The church hired a Transitional Pastor who came to our community three days a week which included Sundays, so for the most part, the part-time church secretary and I  cared for  the needs of the congregation.  This  time for me was just enduring the experience and  trying to hold the church together until the next permanent pastor was in place.  There was not much change that happened or transition which occurred, just a “get through it…” mentality that I embraced as much as the rest of the church did.  Years later as one of your national Synod leaders, I’m sad to say that some version of this story continues to be the mantra and unfortunately the mission of churches when they are faced with a pastoral transition.  “Let’s just get through it…”  “Hold things together until the new pastor gets here…” “Let’s just do what we have to do to survive the change…”  I get it.  I’ve lived it.  And because of these experiences, ECO has created a different pathway for congregations to choose when facing a pastoral transition; not running from change, but embracing change.  

ECO’s Certified Transitional Pastor Program has been created to train and certify pastors to lead through the challenging and turbulent waters of pastoral transition.  Unlike other “interim pastor training programs,” ECO created ours not to just “hold things together,” but to help a congregation to use change to their advantage.  Therefore in ECO, we do not have Interim Pastors, we have Transitional Pastors; pastors who help a congregation transition and learn how to be a congregation without their former pastor…they learn how to be a flourishing congregation, so that they are prepared and equipped to find the next pastor who will help them continue to live out the mission God has given them in their communities.  These pastors go through training and receive ongoing coaching as they serve in Certified Transitional Pastor roles.  One Pastor describes their training this way:

“This training is so much more practical and applicable for transitioning vs interim seat warming, The only drawback is getting churches to buy into a much more comprehensive model for transition. Perhaps the longer we do this the more buy-in will occur. I hope so because the work is VERY good- exhausting- but very good.” ECO Certified Transitional Pastor

ECO works with congregations who are ready to embrace new ways of doing things.  In fact, churches that would like to work with a Certified Transitional Pastor sign an agreement with the Synod, not for money, but to ensure that the session of a congregation is ready to consider whatever it may take for the congregation to become a healthy flourishing congregation.  For some congregations this is a straightforward process, but for others it is challenging as congregations come face to face with some deep and longstanding issues that the the Certified Transitional Pastor helps the congregation to work through in order to come to a place of restoration:

“The Foundations training with Bill Enns and Nate Dreesmann was especially helpful in its emphasis on bringing a pastor’s heart to bear in transition ministry. I have served two transition pastorates since taking the Foundations course. One was a church struggling with grief and anger over the sudden departure of a long-term pastor without any opportunity for farewell or closure. The other church was dealing with frustration and disappointment over the “last minute” unraveling of a plan of pastoral succession upon a pastor’s retirement. Pastoral care and the rebuilding of trust were the primary challenges in both settings. Both churches were resistant to the self-study process provided in the Structural Health course. I was able to engage the elders, though, in some reflection on how they understood their own leadership roles. In that way I was able to work (indirectly) on limited aspects of structural health.” ECO Certified Transitional Pastor

“This is my 3rd transitional position. All at deeply troubled churches. The first two took 4 years. I’ve had great support from ECO and I love helping churches come from a place of utter defeat into new life and a new future!” ECO Certified Transitional Pastor

Wherever a congregation may be, a Certified Transitional Pastor comes in, assesses the situation, and goes to work with the Session and leaders of the church to embrace the change that is needed to help the congregation flourish once again.  From 30 covenant patterns to over 2000 covenant partners, ECO seeks to work in partnership with all of our congregations to support and equip each one as they navigate the change that comes with the departure of their lead pastor.  

I was talking with an elder of an ECO Congregation a few weeks ago who was telling me how much he has appreciated their Certified Transitional Pastor and he said, “We would not have been in such a good place without our CTP….”  This is what we are hearing more and more across the country.   ECO exists to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.  Helping churches through a pastoral change in one of the best ways ECO can support you to discover God’s preferred future for your congregation.  We look forward to walking alongside you this next year as you embrace the change that God is bringing to your congregation.  

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